It’s not that I get all hot and bothered by secondhand smoke. I grew up with enough of it, I’m sure. It’s not that I’m offended (though I should be) by the smell of cigarettes on your clothes or in your car. It’s not even a question of my health I’m talking about here.
This is about my brother-in-law, Rick, and what I’m only starting to understand about lung cancer.
You probably have family and friends who love you, people on your case all the time, people who beseech you to quit, please just quit.
You’re probably like everyone else who figures the big bad boogeyman numbers aren’t about you, and that you’ll go on hacking and smokin’ just fine ‘til you’re 99.
You probably think like everyone else that your next smoke ain’t going to be your last, so light up and relax.
Light up and relax. As if you have all the time in the world.
As I write this, the irony strikes, that I am sitting at my brother-in-law’s computer right now…taping on the keyboard at his desk, a desk he built with his own hands.
This was his place - Rick’s place - a favorite spot in a home that he and my sister gutted and rebuilt together just two years ago when they moved to Bradenton, Florida. Here at last Rick and my sister were living their dream. To grow old gracefully: together.
She would return to her art, her painting . .
He would turn his passion for racing rally cars into a leisurely vocation, rebuilding vintage Mercedes, starting with the ’78 450SL now sitting in the garage.
This was their plan. It was a good plan for the good life. Until July 5th when Rick was diagnosed with cancer.
Small cell lung cancer.
Small cell lung cancer - SCLC - has a particularly nasty way of presenting itself. Like a stealth bomber, it can attack the lungs undetected, then show up - full-blown and fatal - as a metastatic disease, spreading rapidly to the bone, the liver, the colon, the brain.
All cancer is bad news. SCLCis bad luck, as well. Only 15% of all lung cancer cases are SCLC. And in almost all cases, small cell lung cancer is due to cigarette smoking.
In Rick's case, SCLC presented itself in his liver - the equivalent of a Category 4 storm in the body. Extensive. Inoperable. Incurable.
In follow-up on the CT scan, Rick’s doctor advised him to put his affairs in order. To talk to his family. To begin chemo immediately. To prepare for battle.
Imagine processing all that at once. No time for passing go, no time for second opinions. It was chemo or "certain” death within a month. With chemo and perhaps with “luck” at best, Rick would see the sunrise for another six months to a year.
So much for the “clear” chest x-ray taken in June.
So much for that cough “due to allergies.”
So much for Rick’s quiet habit over the years --slipping away from our company to grab a smoke.
“Where’s Rick?” we would ask, when noticing he was missing. “Oh, he must be outside. . . out for a smoke.”
Rick’s dream to build rally cars and race again is now abandoned, as his work stands incomplete in the garage, a one-of-a-kind restoration.
Those who know what they're looking at - the BenzWorld.org people - tell us that Rick's work on his car is spectacular. To the uninitiated, that '78 Mercedes looks like it has “miles to go” before it will ever see the road again.
Rick, so full of life and determination, fueled with future plans when last we saw him in health, dancing at a wedding in May, took his last breath on his 62nd birthday: September 27.
And no, he did not go quietly into the night. He fought and clawed and he held on for dear life, with hope against hope to beat the odds, one day at a time.
“I’m here,” Rick would say, “I’m still here.” In full-battle mode, Rick the stoic and eternal optimist (always with that ready smile, masking his dark side) defied his prognosis. . . courageously taking it in the gut, "one day at a time," as he would say.
In his wallet, along with a photo of his daughter, Erin, Rick carried an old scrap of paper - no doubt a memento mori from his racing days - with these words, faded into its folds. . .
"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -- 'WOW, what a ride!!!'"